Ballerinas Backstage: Staying Close to Home and Forging Your Own Path with Janae Kerr

Janae Kerr was born in Perth, Western Australia. At age 11 she was accepted into the Australian Ballet ITP and she moved to Sydney to train at the Tanya Pearson Academy at 13. After a successful audition tour in Europe & the UK, Janae moved to Munich at the end of 2017 to commence her Bachelor in dance. At age 20, Janae is now back in Australia dancing as a soloist for the Victorian State Ballet. At such a young age Janae has already performed roles such as Giselle, Aurora and will soon perform Sugarplum Fairy for the first time.
I sat down with Janae to chat about her experiences auditioning overseas and the decision to return home, what it’s like to work for a smaller company and how to find your own path.

I'd love to start from the beginning, Janae, Why did you start dancing?

I grew up around dancing from the time I was born and spent many hours at my mum’s studio (Bullsbrook Dance Academy) in Perth.  I was always joining in on any class I could when I was young – jazz, tap, acrobatics, contemporary, musical theatre, and ballet.  When I was 11, I successfully auditioned for the Australian Ballet Interstate Training Program and my absolute love of ballet began.

How did you end up training overseas?

After moving from Perth to Sydney to commence three years of training at Tanya Pearson’s, I was lucky enough to spend six weeks overseas on a successful audition tour.  At the time most graduates were heading overseas and to me this felt like a normal process and the next step to my ballet career.  I was only 16 at the time, so I was still very young.

 

So, you were accepted into the Munich Hochschule Fur Music Und Theater Ballett. What was the experience of moving overseas to train like?

As with anything new, it was quite a challenge moving overseas at such a young age.  I chose to start six months later into the year to finish year 11, so when I arrived there were no availabilities in the boarding house and though my name was on the waiting list, my only option at the time was to rent an apartment.  

I am a very independent and strong person, but travelling on public transport to ballet, grocery shopping and general living combined with training for 8hrs per day was definitely challenging in a foreign country.

What are some of the challenges of training overseas?

For me, the language barrier was a big challenge.  As part of the bachelor’s degree I had to learn the German language and some classes were even in Russian.  The school had students attend from all over the world and I was the only Australian within my year.  At times I felt a little isolated due to the language barrier as many of the girls spoke in their own language to their peers from the same country.  

The Munich Ballet School has beautiful studios and students have a huge amount of natural facility.  Growing up, I am not ashamed to say that I always had to work for turn out and further extension of my lines.  As turnout was a huge part of the training overseas, I used the wrong muscles and started to bulk up. I have always been and still am a very artistic dancer and this was really enhanced at Tanya Pearson’s.  Unfortunately, the artistry overseas is something that is second to facility and I found this extremely difficult as a dancer.  

 

If you understand your own worth, know your own strengths and what works for you in your own training, you have a much stronger chance of achieving your dream.

Janae Kerr

Why did you decide to come back to Australia?

Even after being told I could successfully move   into the next year of my Bachelor degree in Germany, I decided that the best thing for me at the time was to return to Australia.  I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to continue my training, however I felt it was the right decision for me to return home to find some perspective.  Taking the time to really find myself again and focus on training the right way for myself, helped me to become the dancer I am today.  

How did you join Victorian State Ballet?

When I returned from Munich, I did some Company classes at VSB and I was very fortunate to be offered the opportunity of joining the Company as a trainee at 18.  Within 4 months I was offered a corps de ballet position and later in the same year was then promoted to soloist.  It was a very full-on year!

What is great about working for a smaller company vs a big comapny?

That is a difficult question to answer as I have not had the opportunity to work for a bigger company.  Due to COVID, last year was pretty much a write off so I have only really been dancing with VSB for 18 months. But, I have been given many beautiful roles during this time at such a young age & I am very fortunate to have had these opportunities.  

And what do you like about dancing in Australia?

Performing back in Australia is a wonderful feeling when you can share the experience and performance with people who are your biggest supporters.  I really believe it is very important to never forget where you trained and came from.  The ballet world is very connected, and it is always such a special moment when teachers from your past are able to watch you on stage.  My performance of Ariel in The Little Mermaid back in April would have to be one of my favourites as I was able share my love of ballet with past teachers and family in Sydney.

What does a typical day at Victorian State Ballet look like?

We start class at 9.30am every day and basically work through until 2pm.  If you have been cast in any bigger roles within the ballet we’re performing, you will be scheduled to stay until 3.30pm.  At present I am working on the role of Sugar Plum so my day would be – class, group rehearsals until 2pm then Grand Pas until 3.30pm.  I teach most nights in the week, so it makes for a big day.  We also have rehearsals and performances on Saturday and Sundays.

What have some of your favourite roles with Victorian State Ballet been so far?

Giselle would have to be one of my personal favourites. Also the Rose in Beauty & The Beast it’s is a very lyrical role, and I can bring little bit of contemporary into my ballet which I also love.  The role of Sugar Plum is one that I have always dreamt of performing. After working on this beautiful role in the studio for our upcoming season – I am guessing it will soon become my favourite! 

What advice do you have for young dancers who are hoping to travel overseas to train or who can't travel due to COVID-19?

My advice to young dancers would be to don’t rush, take your time and know your worth.  The more maturity, knowledge, and independence you have before moving overseas – the more you will gain from the experience.  So many dancers are led to believe they are running out of time if they don’t head overseas at a young age.  From personal experience, I have become a much stronger dancer mentally and physically from taking the time to understand what is needed to get the best out of myself.  If you understand your own worth, know your own strengths and what works for you in your own training, you have a much stronger chance of achieving your dream.

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